By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
[This conversation relates part of a visit with one of our elderly Briar Circle residents, “roughing out” our recent bout with winter.]
“There’s more than one kind of snow,” I was informed. “Around here, we can’t tell it much, though. We know the dry stuff, and we know the ‘slushy’ stuff. Did you know that Eskimos have over fifty words for snow?”
“I have fifty words for ‘snow’ too; but my Mother doesn’t like me to use them.”
My joke was ignored and the old-timer rambled on. “There’s that many variations of snow! We can’t see it; but the Eskimos can. I guess if you live everyday with the stuff, you learn, and see what the average person in a sensible climate can’t.
“Years ago, I saw a show on educational TV about the Eskimos—they don’t have educational TV anymore, but in it, they showed an Eskimo daddy carving big blocks of ice to make an igloo for the wife and kids. It was interesting to see how he did it; and it didn’t seem to take long at all. When he got done, they showed the family huddled inside, with a little fire in the middle. I don’t remember what they were burning. It wasn’t wood, anyways. But the narrator said it never got colder than forty degrees in an igloo, while the temperature outside was forty below! I don’t suppose it ever gets much warmer than forty in one of them, though. The family was dressed up in their walrus-skin suits, and looked comfortable enough, around the little fire; but there was a baby boy in there walking around stark naked, pretty as you please, and didn’t make any more fuss about it than if it was the summer heatwave! His mom and dad didn’t mind, either. They weren’t worried about it at all.
“But of course it all depends on how a person is born and raised, and what he’s used to. You take that family and put them in a sensible climate, and they’ll bake to ‘well-done’ at seventy degrees! They have to have the snow. But by the same token, you take your A-rab, and put him in that forty-degree igloo, and he’d be frozen solid in ten minutes. But he doesn’t mind that desert sun; he starts shivering if it drops below eighty. It all depends what you were raised to believe in. The A-rab would feel pretty smug, I bet, when we complain about a hundred degrees in the shade in August. And our little bit of snow and ice we have—the Eskimo would laugh at us.”
To me, the conditions did not seem like “a little bit of snow and ice,” but then, I’m not an “Eskimo.” Oddly enough, I vaguely recalled seeing a PBS documentary some thirty years ago about Inuits, i.e., “Eskimos.” The only thing I recall about it, though, is the naked baby in the igloo. I did not mention the recollection; the “old-timer,” wrapped up in his subject, continued:
“It makes every bit of sense, of course. Up in the Ar’tic regions, the weather isn’t going to change. It isn’t going to change where those A-rabs live, either. What you see every minute of every day is what you will see every minute of every day for the rest of your life. It suits them; they don’t know any different. Of course they’re use to it, and don’t want anything else. But around here, God has blessed us with variety. We can’t get around for snow today, but next week it can be eighty degrees! We can’t get accustomed to anything! We have spring, summer, autumn, winter–of course we know it’s cold at forty-degrees! Of course we know it’s hot at ninety! Your A-rab, your Eskimo—they don’t know nothing about that, ‘cause they don’t have any variety.
Before I could absorb this assessment, the fellow changed the subject lightening quick. “Say, have you ever had snow ice-cream? Would you like some?” No, I never had but would indeed like to try some. I was instructed to “fetch five or six cups of snow” while my friend mixed a teaspoon of vanilla, one cup of milk and a third cup of sugar together. When I returned, he combined the snow with his mixture until he achieved the right consistency. It was great! But, personally, I hope it’s a long time before there’s enough snow to make anymore.